No. 2 (1919-21) [42:51]
Pour une fête de printemps (1921) [11:41]
in F (1926) [14:11]
National Orchestra/Stéphane Denève
Henry Wood Hall, Glasgow, UK 30 May-1 June 2007 (Symphony, Pour une fête
de printemps) and 2-4 May 2006 (Suite) DDD.
This disc is the second installment in this enterprising label’s
series of Roussel symphonies conducted by Stéphane Denève,
coupled with other of his works. Welcome it is, too!
is primarily known for his Third and Fourth symphonies and his
ballets Bacchus et Ariane and Le Festin de l’araignée
(The Spider’s Feast). While Roussel’s First Symphony
is impressionistic in nature and his last two works in the genre
are much more neo-classical, the Symphony No. 2 is really a transitional
work. It is more densely scored than his later works and more
complex in form. It does not reveal its secrets as easily as
the later symphonies. However, after a couple hearings, one recognizes
this as a genuine work of the composer. As Richard Whitehouse
points out in his excellent notes in the CD booklet, the symphony
has never caught on in the way that some of Roussel’s other compositions
have. It is certainly a darker piece than his other symphonies
and leaves a powerful impression on the listener. It is well
orchestrated with important parts for the brass and winds. The
horn theme in the first movement (Lent) at 7:53 and 14:20 that recurs
in the second movement (Modéré) on trumpet at 7:57
is particularly memorable. All three movements end quietly and
contain lyrical elements in the strings. Although the finale
(Très lent) begins slowly, it later introduces a rhythmic
figure that is played by the woodwinds and strings. Then the
horns burst forth with it and finally the whole orchestra picks
it up. This serves a function similar to the horn and trumpet
theme in the first two movements and lends unity to the piece,
which otherwise might seem a bit discursive. The symphony ends
with a nice horn solo. Denève and the orchestra play the
symphony as to the manner born, for Denève’s work with the Scottish
orchestra has been impressive and continues to be. He already
contributed a superb account of the well known Third Symphony
and Bacchus et Ariane ballet (see
review). His main competition in the symphony at hand comes
from the series by Christoph Eschenbach and the Orchestre de Paris.
I have not heard that recording, but it, too, has received excellent
reviews. Charles Dutoit’s recordings of all the symphonies are
also highly regarded.
The other works on the CD are more than mere fillers. The
first item the tone poem Pour une fête de printemps,
written about the same time as the symphony, resembles the symphony
in its sound, although it is not as dark as the larger work.
The Suite in F represents the jovial side of the more familiar
Roussel in that it was composed during his later, neo-classical
period. It is in three movements (Prélude, Sarabande
and Gigue) that recall earlier, Baroque forms. Nonetheless,
as Whitehouse states, “its abrasive harmonies, motoric rhythms
and pungent humour evince a distinctly ‘contemporary’ feel.”
As in other later Roussel the orchestration here is more transparent
and the construction tauter and more economical.
All three works
on the disc receive superb performances and the recorded sound
is also very good. If you don’t know these pieces, this is a
most economical way to experience them. I can highly recommend
this CD to anyone interested in Roussel or twentieth-century French
orchestral music regardless of price.
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